What to Expect by Meredith Childers

You will have found it by now. The small white sock trapped in the corner of the fitted sheet. You have not taken the sheet out since winter because it is flannel and not appropriate for the spring and summer months. You will inadvertently flick the sock onto the floor when you shake out the sheet and at first not recognize it. But that will last only two seconds, the not recognizing, because suddenly you will know what it is. It will only take two seconds for the black hole to open up and swallow you, so prepare accordingly. You will need stronger legs – some squats or lunges on a regular basis will help. Also, you will need a cold surface, like the tile of the bathroom floor, to lay your face against. You may be there for an hour or two, so be sure to keep the bathroom floor clean.


While you are walking in the park, an old friend will approach you. Actually, she will not approach you, but you will have seen her quite by accident and she will see you seeing her and be forced to greet you by the strength of etiquette or at least the desire to see herself as “not rude.” Her smile will not reach her eyes.

Your conversation will be as follows:

Her: Oh, I thought that was you. How are you?

You: I’m O.K.

Her: Good! I love these long days. We work hard for them, right? I feel like I’ve got to get out and soak up all this vitamin D before it’s gone.

You: Uh-huh.

Her: So, it’s been while since…since I’ve seen you? What have you been up to?

You: Um, some contract work here and there, not much.

Her: But, you’re good? You’re…you know, doing better?

You: Well, I don’t really…I guess I wouldn’t honestly say ‘better’, not really, it’s been harder…than I thought.

Her: But, day by day, things probably are moving forward, right?

You: I’m not sure, it doesn’t feel that way, I guess I…

Her: Well, it will. Trust me, it’s a day-by-day thing. But you look good. You’ve lost some weight! I don’t know how you do it. Oh shoot, here’s the school calling. Sam has been having some trouble at the sensory table; I think it must be a developmental stage or something. Anyway, I’m so sorry, I’ve got to get this. It was so good to see you though. We have to have you over for dinner soon, O.K?…Hello? Yes, this is Barb. Is he at it again? Mmhmm…”

You will continue home, but the frustration will inch up your spine, hot and liquid, until it reaches your face, your cheeks, your eyes, where it will leak out forming warm rivulets that collect at your neck. Keep a handkerchief available and perhaps some sunglasses for the walk home.


You will need to change your voicemail greeting. You have altered your schedule and must alert callers to this fact. But first you will listen to the old voicemail greeting; the one you recorded a year ago. You will notice that your voice will sound foreign, distorted by the higher pitch and there will be something like music or innocence in it. You will understand at that moment that you are not who you once were. Sometimes that will feel like a rebirth and other times it will feel like a waking death. You will need to erase the greeting and record a new one.


You will need a pillow, pajamas, blankets and a dark room in order to wake at 3:00am gasping for shallow breaths. You will feel the tightness as your heart throws itself against the walls and tissue and bones of your chest seeking to expand or escape, you aren’t sure which, but you won’t be able to move, so it won’t matter. You will be sweating, so you should have an extra pair of pajamas nearby. Medication will be available to you. However, with this medication, you will instead find yourself making a grilled cheese sandwich in your kitchen at 3:00am and you will not know how you got there.


You will know by this point in your life that many of the functions of your body are involuntary; your breathing or the beating of your heart, for instance. What you will not know is that your body, when confronted with intense sorrow, will emit a noise, a hollow, cavernous sound. It will begin in your stomach, a gathering of every nerve pulled together and it will burst out of your mouth, loud and impossibly long. You will in fact have heard a noise like it once before; it will be quite similar to the one you made when he arrived. You will think it odd that the two noises are so much the same; the one when he arrived and the one when he left. You can use a pillow or a balled up t-shirt to cover your mouth and muffle the sound.


You will not sleep for two months. You will eat very little. You will watch cooking shows on a television mounted in the corner of the cold room. You will curl yourself around him in the cage-like crib they keep in the ICU, weaving in and out of multi-colored chords. When it is time to decide, you will believe that you are making a choice, but the choice is a courtesy offered to you. The choice was made for you already; you need only respond “yes”. You will always wonder when the choice was made exactly. That time at the store when you passed a woman wearing a surgical mask? That time at the birthday party when you let the boy with the runny nose touch him? That time when you can’t remember whether you washed your hands before you gathered him in your arms after the long bus ride home? What will follow is a sterile room where the two doctors and a nurse arrange themselves uncomfortably before you while you sit on a vinyl sofa. The look on their faces will feel like screaming in your ears. They will ask you to approve the procedure and you will.


A popular child-rearing manual will assure you that from time to time infants experience a “developmental shift” that requires persistent crying and apparent discomfort. While the type and tone of his crying will seem irregular to you, you will reassure yourself by re-reading the chapter of the child-rearing manual on developmental shifts. In time you will discard the manual, come to hate it really, but for now, you will let it occupy an important and accessible space on your bookshelf. You will dismiss the aching insistent dread. You will dismiss it, that is, until you remove his soaked pajamas and find a deep red rash on his torso. You will need to purchase a thermometer at the all-night grocery to verify what you already know. He will by this point be vomiting bile and you will need a vehicle to drive him to the hospital emergency room. There, every sound will be too loud, from the sucking of the automatic doors to the buzzing silence of the waiting room at 2am.  


You will need a jacket and a good pair of walking shoes. The leaves in the trees will have begun to change and the air will feel new. You should adjust the child carrier into a comfortable position. It will fit across your chest in perfect symmetry and as you walk you will feel his warmth against you. You will rub his sleeping back, rising and falling softly, and you will lift your face to the sky.


Leave a Comment